Universities can be slow to embrace social media, and it’s to their detriment. Not only does having a weak social media presence open up a school to looking behind-the-times–it allows students to control a school’s image online. Unfortunately, the students who shout (or tweet) the loudest are often less-than-happy with a school. For prospective students fed up with staid (and often confusing) school websites, one angry tweet can carry more weight than an entire admissions department’s carefully-crafted PDF look book.
A great example student-controlled social media presence is familiar to most OpenStudy users: Georgia Tech. Among high school and university students in Georgia, the most popular Tech website around is the student-designed, student-run Only At Tech–complete with a version mocking the University of Georgia for the UGA/Tech game. Popular entries on the site focus on typical Tech student gripes: few female students, heavy workloads, and excessive consumption of alcohol. Now, the amount of truth in these gripes is up for debate–however, it’s almost certainly not the image Georgia Tech wants to convey to applicants (especially women, those worried about the workload, and non-drinkers). By not getting out ahead of the game and aggressively promoting a university-managed view of student social activity outside of the traditional school website, Georgia Tech has to work that much harder to combat a negative image.
This isn’t to say that a completely university-produced site would have been better. University-produced media is, by and large, ignored by prospective students. This is in part because students assume (often correctly) that admissions departments are, at the very least, completely glossing over what life is really like at their school. Prospective students aren’t dumb; they know that not everything about a university is Frisbee on the quad with a diverse, attractive group of friends–they want to know what finals week is like. Applicants are interested in what real students have to say–it’s up to the school to curate which students applicants hear from. Applicants are still going to be starting at a school’s official website–if a school aggregates public social media feeds from its students and faculty on its own website, it can combine some level of control with authenticity.
North Carolina State University has done a particularly good job of this kind of semi-controlled aggregation–their NCSU Twitter page has received a great deal of good press. The site, run on an open source platform developed by NCSU employees, aggregates a selected set of Twitter accounts related to the university. Some of these belong to university employees, some of these are official Twitter feeds for sports teams and libraries, and some are for student clubs. By hosting the site itself, the university is able to control who gets shown (it’s telling that most of the accounts are university-run or are affiliated with adult alumni rather than students) and what the site looks like–it’s decked out in school colors. But, by using Twitter accounts rather than a static web site, the university is able to look web-savvy and maintain an air of authenticity. Even better, the school has to put in a minimal amount of effort to maintain the site because other people are producing the content.
For schools which don’t want to venture into the world of Twitter, there are low-effort ways to increase social media presence in a way that won’t have students rolling their eyes. Especially during application season, having an official Facebook fan page can be hugely helpful for prospective students. Most students already use the site (not always true of Twitter) and a fan page requires no real technological expertise from admissions staff. Another Georgia school, Oxford College of Emory University, does a particularly good job with its Facebook page. During the year the site is regularly updated with profiles of student leaders, links to student-made videos, and information about school events. During the summer, it links to the school’s official Facebook groups for each incoming class–and this is where the site becomes particularly useful. If a school can convince its incoming freshmen to join an official Facebook group (rather than a student-controlled one), it can make sure that the group is run by in-the-know current students and faculty rather than just pre-freshmen. This way, the school can keep an eye on the discussion and make sure students are getting timely, accurate answers. All a successful Facebook page requires is paying a work study student to keep it updated; all that is needed for a successful Facebook class group is for the school to create a group early on, before students do, and encourage current students to answer incoming students’ questions.
Social media can be a strange new world for university staff not used to a generation of students for whom going without Facebook for a week is a huge struggle. However, if a university doesn’t stay on top of its image, its students will step in to fill that void–and they may not convey the message a university wants affiliated with its name. By taking advantage of pre-existing Twitter accounts and a Facebook-savvy student body, schools can easily increase their social media presence with minimal effort.
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- One reason for universities to have a social media presence « Kyle Christie's Blog pingbacked Posted December 2, 2010, 7:26 pm